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Chavez Calls Lukashenka A 'Friend'

Chavez arriving in Minsk on July 23 ( July 24, 2006 -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk today and said he had found another "friend."

Chavez, who is known for his anti-U.S. rhetoric, said the two would join in creating a "fighting team".

Arriving in Minsk on July 24, Chavez praised Belarus as a "model state," like the one he wanted to build in Venezuela.

Lukashenka has been denounced in the West as "Europe's last dictator" for his authoritarian policies. At the start of his talks with Chavez today, he said all areas were open for cooperation between the two countries.

The Venezuelan president is to visit the site of Soviet-era military fortifications outside Minsk later today and a military academy the next day, before traveling to Russia on July 25, where he will meet President Vladimir Putin and other officials.

(, Reuters)